WELCOME TO the Cirque du Pepperdine, where a sideshow clown wandered under the big top last week and stole the spotlight. Fighting for his professional life in an arbitration hearing against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency at Pepperdine law school, Floyd Landis and his lawyers worked hard to keep the focus on the alleged sloppy record keeping and bungled procedures at the French drug-testing lab that handled his Tour de France urine sample.
What minor victories they won were undone last Thursday when Greg LeMond introduced one Will Geoghegan to the world. Geoghegan, who worked as Landis's business manager, achieved Shane Stant--like infamy by cellphoning a beyond-crude threat to LeMond the night before the famed cyclist was scheduled to testify against Landis. It wasn't exactly a case for Hercule Poirot: LeMond tracked Geoghegan down using the caller ID on his BlackBerry. (Memo to Geoghegan: To block caller ID, touch *67 before placing your call. Please promise you will not use this info to threaten any more witnesses.)
The backstory: In the confusing days after his victory in the '06 Tour was clouded by a positive drug test, Landis phoned LeMond, who had publicly expressed his disappointment in the test result. The three-time Tour winner told Landis to fess up if he was guilty. To illustrate the dangers of harboring a dark secret, LeMond, 45, confided in Landis that he'd been molested as a child. Keeping silent about it for decades, he said, "nearly destroyed me."
Such counsel was not needed by Landis, who, as he assured the panel last week, has never used performance-enhancing drugs. But he apparently passed LeMond's number to Geoghegan, who later said he downed "a beer or two" on the evening of May 16, then fired it up. When LeMond answered, Geoghegan identified himself as "Your uncle," saying, "I'll be there tomorrow... and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie."
Describing himself as "shaking and shocked" at the attempt to intimidate him, LeMond filed a police report. At Landis's hearing the next day, he recounted his Aug. 6 talk with Landis and the disturbing call he'd received from Geoghegan—who, astonishingly, came to the hearing. Asked by USADA lawyer Matt Barnett to stand, Geoghegan did. "And let the record reflect," continued Barnett, rather enjoying himself at this point, "that he was sitting behind Mr. Landis's table."
The message from members of Team Landis after that kneecapping moment: Pay no attention to the man behind the respondent's table. Geoghegan—who, it was announced on Monday, was going into rehab—was immediately cut loose, but the timing was brutal for the defense, negating the momentum of a morning in which, for the second straight day, Landis's lawyers called attention to curious omissions from the custody log at the lab where Landis's whiz was worked up. Time gaps in lab documents were spotlighted. Data manipulation was implied.
It was all gold to Team Landis, whose members now plead with us to focus on the science, not the spectacle created by Floyd's witness-tampering thug. Pull back far enough, however, and you'll see a tawdry sideshow is precisely what cycling has become. A week before the Landis hearing, former Discovery rider Ivan Basso admitted his involvement in Operaci�n Puerto, the on-again, off-again Spanish blood-doping investigation. (Just because he was "involved," Basso later clarified, did not mean he doped. His was among the 200 bags of blood seized by authorities, Basso explained, because he had considered cheating, then thought better of it. In other words, he did not inhale.) Also ensnared in Operaci�n Puerto earlier this month was star-crossed American rider Tyler Hamilton, 36, who was suspended indefinitely by his new team, Tinkoff Credit Systems, less than a month after he returned from a two-year ban for... blood doping.
But, here's the thing: Hamilton didn't dope. His bloodstream contained different populations of red-blood cells, he has long contended, because he shared his mother's womb with a "vanishing twin." And lest we forget, Landis is also a victim. The lab screwed up. People are out to get him. Like Basso, he's just a guy who can't catch a break. Soon they'll be serving suspensions together. Call them the vanishing triplets.
On the afternoon LeMond testified, USADA displayed a nasty message Landis had posted on a cycling website last November. Furious that LeMond was intimating to reporters that he was guilty, Landis wrote, "If he ever opens his mouth again and the word Floyd comes out, I will tell you all some things that you will wish you didn't know and unfortunately I will have entered the race to the bottom...."
Are we there yet?